PIERRE LaBOSSIERE COLUMN: The NCAA is broken and it’s time to fix it

The world of NCAA basketball has been roiled with scandal over the past year, and particularly over the past couple of weeks.

Assistant coaches have been arrested. Two University of Washington stars have either admitted or been implicated in taking payouts from boosters. The Arizona head coach has been caught on a wiretap discussing payments to recruits, according to an ESPN report. Rick Pitino was finally forced out by Louisville because even Louisville finally had enough of the scandals and his pious denials of any responsibility.

I’m not the kind of person who makes a lot of bold predictions, because I’m usually wrong when I do. But, I’m making one here.

Everything you’ve heard about up to now is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s going to be much, much more when all of the information comes out from the FBI. Lots of players will be involved, lots of big-name coaches will be going down in flames.

Watch and see if it comes true.

Why do I think this? Because I believe NCAA basketball is the most corrupt sport there is. Way more corrupt than other college sports, way more corrupt than drug-soaked professional cycling, professional track and Major League Baseball. Way more corrupt than the NFL trying to cover up concussion damage.

It’s a system that was set up long ago to be corrupted. And it has been … badly. Pro basketball? Great. Prep hoops? Awesome. JC hoops? Exciting. But, I haven’t been a big fan of NCAA basketball for some time. It has nothing to do with the actual game, but the corruption and the money involved in what is supposed to be an amateur sport.

NBA’s role

The NBA has played its part, with its poorly thought-out 19-year-old age requirement, creating the “one and done” phenomenon of the absolute best high school recruits playing a single year of college just to showcase their talents for their eventual NBA employers. That puts an incredible amount of pressure on coaches to recruit these kids that they know they’re only going to have for one year. Last year, the two best players in the Pac-12 — UW’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball — were “one and done” freshmen just using their college experience to climb up the NBA Draft ladder.

With that incredible amount of pressure, with coaches pulling down multi-million dollar salaries and conferences and schools pulling in billions from television contracts and endorsement deals, you’ve created a hyper-agitated vat of corruption when the players are expected to offer their services for free. Into that void steps shoe company representatives and boosters with bundles of cash enticements.

I don’t blame the players. Not one bit. Why should all those coaches and athletic departments get filthy rich off their free labor?

I don’t have all the answers of how to fix it. I’m no genius, but it’s pretty clear there’s several common-sense ideas that need to be explored.

The first one, and most obvious, is get rid of the one-and-done NBA rule. Eighteen-year-olds can be drafted by NHL and hockey teams, and they were drafted by NBA teams for about 10 years without wrecking the league. I get it that the league and teams don’t want to have to have a bunch of 18-year-olds on their roster that they have to develop, so set up a more robust minor league system.

The NBA already has a developmental league. They should turn it into a genuine 30-team AAA league like baseball and hockey.

There, you can stash those 18-year-old draft picks and free agents while they take a year or two to learn the professional game. You could have teams in cities like Las Vegas, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, San Jose, etc. LeBron James has already suggested this idea. It’s worth a look.

Secondly, simply pay the college players or allow them to have endorsement contracts, at least. This takes some of the bite out of people looking to lure kids with payments under the table. I’m sorry, but a kid with NBA talent staying at a school for a year or two and picking up 24 college units isn’t there for the education. They’re there to showcase their talents and the NBA has set it up a system so they have nowhere else to do it.

This doesn’t need to go on at the 340 Division 1A schools. The problems aren’t at small schools like Seattle U or Pacific Lutheran or Peninsula. But, maybe the basketball schools in the ACC, SEC and Big 12 — the ones that are de facto semi-pro leagues already — need to go toward paying players.

Would all these ideas work? I don’t know. I’m just picking up ideas I’ve seen others come up with and throwing them at the wall. I just know the current system isn’t failing, it’s already failed. It’s irrevocably broken. Maybe a few dozen big-name college coaches need to be facing federal charges to get change made.

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